Judges Reject Silvio Berlusconi’s Appeal, but His Political Appeal Endures

My piece on Silvio Berlusconi’s first definitive conviction has just been published by Time.

For the first time, after more than two decades of high-profile judicial battles, Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been definitively convicted of a crime. After seven hours of deliberation Thursday, the judges in Italy’s highest court emerged from their chamber to reject his final appeal on charges of tax fraud — and therefore confirming a one-year prison sentence, while sending back for a review a five-year ban from public office. He was originally sentenced last October.

Berlusconi was accused, along with three others, of using offshore companies to purchase the rights to American movies, reselling them to his media empire at markup in order to pay lower taxes. The sentence is a blow for the 76-year-old billionaire, but Berlusconi has made a career of proving the writers of his political obituaries wrong. Because of his age and the nature of his crime, Berlusconi is unlikely to see the inside of a prison cell. He will serve his sentence — originally for four years but commuted to one — either under house arrest or performing community service. While the ban on public office is under review, a process that could take months, the conservative politico will be able to keep his position as Senator and de facto head of his political party. “Politically, he’s still very much alive,” says Franco Pavoncello, a political scientist at Rome’s John Cabot University. “This will weaken him, but he can continue to be a leader, a symbol for the right.”

Read the rest.

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